KC Royals: Let’s take another look at video review

(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) /

Baseball’s video review system has been good to the KC Royals. A new rule reduces the time managers have to decide whether to challenge plays, but more change is needed.

I do not know Bill Duplissea, the KC Royals’ Major League Advance Scouting Coordinator and Instant Replay Coordinator. I’ve never met him or talked with him on the phone. As far as I know, the only time we’ve ever been in the same place at the same time is Kauffman Stadium during  Royals games. That I’m not personally acquainted with him, however, doesn’t mean I won’t apologize to him for what I am about to suggest.

Simply put, I propose that baseball eliminate part of his two-part job. This is through no fault of his own–Dupilssea is hands-down the best video review man in the business. My proposal isn’t directed at him specifically, but instead at the video review system as a whole, and would render his role as Royals’ Instant Replay Coordinator unnecessary.

Before I state this proposal, I must give Duplissea his due. Although retired KC manager Ned Yost led the major leagues in successful play challenges in three of the five seasons since baseball vastly expanded the scope of video review in 2014, Duplissea’s were the eyes behind Yost’s success. The KC Royals didn’t make all those decisions to challenge plays in a vacuum–they relied heavily on the input of Duplissea, sequestered during games in a video room watching the game and replays on monitors.

By rule, Yost had 30 second to decide whether to challenge a suspect call and received Duplissea’s opinion via dugout phone; Duplissea had to digest the play visually, analyze it and determine what advice to give Yost. Yost saw the play in real time; Duplissea viewed it with the benefit of his monitors. More often than not, the Duplissea-Yost team was right: Yost led the majors in successful challenges in 2016, 2018 and 2019.

Whether KC Royals’ challenges will be any less effective under new manager Mike Matheny remains to be seen. A new rule change, effective this season, reduces by a third the time managers have to challenge a play–they’ll have 20 seconds, not 30. But Duplissea with the Royals, and Matheny with the Cardinals when he managed them, have had to make quick decisions before; now, they’ll just have to make them a bit faster.

But my proposal to remake the video review system would completely remove Duplissea from the picture. I suggest prohibiting teams from relying on video, in any form, to make challenge decisions. Make managers and their coaches rely on nothing but their eyes, their heads and their collective wisdom.

This idea isn’t based in whole or part by the video-driven cheating of the Astros. Nor am I so much a baseball purist that I don’t recognize and accept the value of video to the modern game. And Commissioner Rob Manfred’s relentless effort to shorten games (a solution looking for a problem, I believe, one that will do the game more harm than good) also has nothing to do with it–prohibiting teams from viewing their own video won’t decrease the maddeningly long official reviews that too often interrupt games.

Instead, I’d like to see a re-invigorated challenge process, a return to risk and suspense. Let’s not do away with challenges–they usually leave us secure in the notion that the result of a challenge was right–and I long ago accepted the system and will continue to unless it someday expands to include ball and strike calls.

Managers are paid to make tough decisions under tense conditions, almost all of which they make without in-game video support; when it comes to challenges, let’s pay them to rely on their eyes and their gut, not their technology. These are men paid well to take risks, and it’s reasonable to add to their mix the risk of forfeiting a challenge by being wrong.

My proposal would also increase the suspense of a challenge. Those of us watching at home will still see replays while the field and replay umps review theirs, and reach our own conclusions about a challenge, but we’d get to watch managers sweat the process without the comforting benefit of their own video. Stadium board video might help relieve their tension, but not all stadiums show all the replays from all the angles.

The bottom line is I want some simplicity, some purity, restored to the challenge process. I want managers to have to think about everything they do and to make critical decisions based on their knowledge, experience, savvy and gut instincts. I realize, of course, that managers rely for many in-game decisions on analytics and data developed and provided by front office experts, but such information encompasses hard facts to be applied to specific situations, such as how a particular batter typically fares against a particular pitcher.

Data assimilation and situational application together constitute one natural and inevitable consequence of a good manager’s work ethic, preparation, and pride in his work. Using video of close plays to make tough decisions during games is, it seems to me, something altogether different–I like to see managers make decisions on what they see once, in real-time; after all, they don’t use real-time video to instantly determine a just-pitched fastball’s rise, a sinker’s drop, or a curveball’s break.

This is not to demean the work of Bill Duplissea. Not at all. He’s the best at what he does and has made what he does an art. I suspect he’ll keep doing it for a long time because I really don’t think baseball will ever take pre-decision video review out of the challenge equation.

I just wish it would.

Next. Unraveling minor league player options. dark

The KC Royals are fortunate to have Bill Duplissea, the best video review man in the business. But it wouldn’t hurt the game if teams were prohibited from making their own video review a basis for challenge decisions.